I am a gay former NFL player who was deeply hurt by David Tyree’s past comments about homosexuality. Here’s why I am building a friendship with the Giants’ new director of player development, whose views are evolving
True compassion is never one-sided. When I first decided to tell my family that I am gay, my mother had a very hostile reaction. We went from being best friends to only speaking sporadically over the next four years. During that time, I knew she undoubtedly disapproved of what she called “my lifestyle.”
“My lifestyle” was something that she had never imagined for me. Frankly, the idea of having a gay son was something she wasn’t prepared for. When she received the news that she had a gay son, she experienced a death—the death of a “very real” dream she had for me and the life I would live. I decided that even when my mother at times said cruel things to me, I would always meet her resistance with love.
Earlier this week, David Tyree, a fellow former NFL player, accepted a job with his former team, the New York Giants. He’ll serve as their director of player development and oversee the team’s efforts to educate players on various issues away from the field. As a result, he and the Giants have come under scrutiny because of his past comments decrying homosexuality.
Though I had never meet or spoken to David, I was extremely critical of his views. In 2011, he was quoted in several media outlets saying that he “probably would” trade his Super Bowl XLII experience—his improbable helmet catch and a 17-14 win over the Patriots—to block gay marriage, which he likened to “anarchy.” I did not offer David the same opportunity I gave my mother. I wasn’t looking to offer him any real consideration or kindness because I was hurt. His words reminded me of a pain that I was trying to forget. I was also afraid that if I showed David compassion or love, he would never see the deep emotional scars that words like his left on me over the years—words that often led me to hating myself. He would never see me.
This year I have been invited by the NFL to speak at numerous events to educate players, coaches, management, and owners about LGBT issues. It was after one of those talks that I first met David. He approached me, introduced himself, offered his hand and said, “I want you to know I really respect what you do.” After having the opportunity to speak with David, I realized he is on a journey when it comes to understanding the LGBT community. He is evolving. Just as my mother did. Just as some of our most well-known supporters did. Just as I did.
During the current media firestorm surrounding Giants’ hiring of David, I paused to reflect on my initial resistance toward him and asked myself, Can we create the space for all individuals to evolve? Have we given up on understanding, engaging, and educating? Are we unwilling to offer compassion to those whose views may shock or offend us? Why has the default response now become to vilify and judge before we seek to ask questions?
Let me be very clear: I am not defending the hurtful things David said in the past. Nor am I saying his journey is complete. I am strongly defending his right, his ability, and most importantly his apparent willingness to grow as a person. And I will be working closely with him to help him along on this journey. I am hopeful that the outcome will be a positive one.
I spoke with David last night, and he asked me to quote him in this piece. He said, “My interactions with Wade over the past few months are much more representative of my current beliefs toward the gay community than some tweets from several years ago. Christianity teaches us love, compassion, and respect for our fellow man, and it is in that light that I will continue to work with Wade and others to better serve the gay community. I would absolutely support any player on the Giants who identified as gay, in any way I could. And I will continue to stay in touch with Wade to ensure I am aware of the right ways to do that.”
My mother and I are now best friends again, and she supports me professionally and personally. She is a source of love and happiness in my life. What if I never gave her to space to evolve? What if I never offered her the same type of compassion and love that I was desperately seeking in return? It is not always easy, but I remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
As the executive director of the You Can Play Project and a social justice advocate, my role isn’t always an easy one. As a black gay man, I can be hurt and offended by someone whose views toward a specific subject differ from my own. But my goal is to build bridges, not create more dams. And I understand that without offering all individuals compassion, I cannot help foster real change. We can demand apologies and force PR teams to write statements, but if we fail to understand why others think and believe the way they do, we will never be able to help them evolve. Social justice workers are taught to “meet people where they are.” All too often it seems our real goal is to drag others who think differently to where we want them to be, kicking and screaming, without investing real time in the lives and experiences of others. As a friend once told me, that pathway results in social justice work being “incredibly social” and “insufficiently just.”
You Can Play has an important role in the LGBT sports world. We aren’t the ones writing press releases and starting online petitions. We are the ones who are called upon to have the difficult conversations. We are the boots on the ground, in the locker rooms, answering the offensive questions. Establishing long-term relationships that grow into real cultural change. Our goal is to work with—not against—athletes who say harmful and hurtful things. We don’t support what they say, but we support their ability to grow. It can be slow and frustrating at times, but I believe my ongoing relationship with David will have a positive impact on both of us, and on the New York Giants organization.
From hanging out with David Tyree and his beautiful family at the NFL rookie symposium and talking with him on the phone, I know now that he isn’t asking anyone to change. He doesn’t believe that LGBT individuals “need fixing.”
As I come to learn more about David and begin a deeper friendship with him, I’m going to talk to him about the serious and vile treatment that is conversion therapy—of which he has been a vocal proponent—and how those words have been the source of destruction for many LGBT individuals. But those honest and productive conversations can’t be had without first building a foundation for a relationship to rest on. David deserves the right to his own thoughts, his own ideas and his own opinions. And because we have been able to create a space in which he can share those with me, he is incredibly open to having more respectful conversations about LGBT inclusion. Upon that foundation I hope to keep building a better and stronger bridge. We will be able to talk about how to support LGBT players. We will be able to talk about how his faith encourages him to be loving and inclusive of the LGBT community. We will be able to talk about why the things he has said were so hurtful to so many people. We will, simply put, be able to talk to each other despite our differences. And we will be able to support each other as we continue to do the most important work, the work that we must be do on ourselves.
As I learn how to ask for compassion from others who offer resistance to my dreams, I’m constantly asking myself, Can I show the same compassion in return? Can I find inspiration from that resistance and turn it into the energy that sparks change? None of us have all the answers in life. But with a safe space in which to communicate and grow, we can always fall back on love.
A former football captain at Weber State, Wade Davis was cut by the Redskins in training camp and retired in 2003 because of a leg injury. He came out nine years later in media interviews and is the co-founder of the You Belong initiative, an LGBTQ and straight ally youth sports and leadership program. He is also executive director of You Can Play and lives in New York City.